For all those theatrical trivia buffs interested in whatever happened to William Inge’s NATURAL AFFECTION (which might have been better titled UN-NATURAL AFFECTION) his 1963 drama that lasted a mere 36 performances on Broadway due to mixed reviews and a four month long New York Newspaper strike you are in luck.
That digger-upper of lost plays, The Actors Company Theatre has unearthed this rarely produced artifact which has mellowed over the years but still packs a punch with its surprising denouement.
William Inge is best known for PICNIC and BUS STOP produced in the 50’s. But Inge saw the future and he didn’t like what he saw and so he wrote NATURAL AFFECTION in 1962 which covers a lot of angst and emotional upheaval. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
The sixties heralded the sexual revolution, women’s liberation and random violence. Throw in some latent homosexuality, alcoholism and an abandoned son and his all too loving and suffocating mom and you have the makings of one of the longest expositions (almost the entire first act) ever seen on The Beckett Theatre stage where this odd and uneven drama unfolds.
With solid direction by Jenn Thompson this production is about the best that it could be with what Inge wrote back then with its somewhat dated dialogue, sterotypes and lack of action – that is until the very end of Act I and continues through to its climax after a short intermission. Stick around. It’s worth it.
It’s Christmas in Chicago circa 1962 and department store lingerie buyer Sue Barker (Kathryn Erbe) is awaiting a visit from her teen age, estranged son Donnie (Chris Bert). He’d been abandoned at birth by his dad, growing up in an orphanage and then beating up a woman that landed him at a Work Farm (Reform School). But she loves him dearly. Almost too much so. And he reciprocates these Oedipal feelings although he’s confused by them. Anger slowly festering within.
Sue has been living with and paying for the hunky Bernie Slovenk (Alec Beard) who is a not very successful Cadillac salesman but likes nice things – booze, gifts and sex. He resents her for making more money than he does while she waits on him hand and foot. She desperately wants Bernie to marry her.
Their next door neighbors the alcoholic Vince Brinkman (John Pankow) and his lonely and bored vamp of a wife Claire (Victoria Mack) are “swingers” and Act II veers off into a VIRGINIA WOOLF-like Christmas party which is pretty scary stuff. John Pankow gives an amazing performance.
Eve Bianco as “the party girl” startles in her vivid portrayal.
Will the son fit in? Will Bernie accept him? Will they like each other? Will Donnie’s Work Farm friend Gil (Tobi Aremu) be able to talk Donnie into a kill for hire or gay for pay? Will everyone make it to the Playboy Club to celebrate the holiday?
The very naturalistic set (John McDermott) is neat and clean right down to the inside of the fridge. Costumes are fine by David Toser especially those designed for Claire. Toby Algya has come up with a terrific soundscape with its ominous noir muted trumpet and period songs – Jingle Bell Rock and Shout will forever not be the same for those who visit this production.
Through October 26th
www.tactnyc.com Photos: Marielle Solan Photography
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